Despite their enormous success last year, 20th Century Fox has had a very rough Summer this year. On top of having a somewhat unremarkable Summer movie slate to begin with, with Melissa McCarthy vehicle, Spy being their only well-reviewed and profitable success, most of their Summer movies ended up being box office disappointments, with both Paper Towns and Poltergeist generating poor box office returns. Their absolute low point also came a few weeks ago, in the wake of the Fantastic Four fiasco, which was meant to be their major Summer hitter, but instead became a mess of scathing reviews, a dismal box office count that has the studio on track to lose over $50 million on the movie, and fans heavily pressuring the studio to return the franchise rights to Marvel.
As the Summer concludes, Fox is thus left to trust the rest of their Summer movie fortunes to… A video game adaptation, that being Hitman: Agent 47. Oh dear. Despite the video game industry now being one of the largest entertaimment industries in the entire world, Hollywood still can’t seem to get most video game-inspired movies right. Making matters worse is that Fox already delivered a botched attempt to translate the Hitman game series to the big screen in 2007, that being the Timothy Olyphant vehicle simply titled ‘Hitman‘, with new reboot movie, Hitman: Agent 47 being made solely so that Fox could keep the rights to the video game series, before they expired and automatically returned to publisher, Square Enix, much like the situation behind the disastrous Fantastic Four reboot that clearly blew up in the studio’s face.
With the odds stacked so drastically against Hitman: Agent 47, the movie would initially seem like the final nail in the coffin of Fox’s rather dreadful Summer movie business for 2015. Surprisingly though, unlike the truly awful Fantastic Four reboot, Hitman: Agent 47 is actually… Kind of alright. It’s certainly not a masterpiece, and the experience of playing the actual Hitman video games is still far superior to this latest movie adaptation, but this reboot is definitely superior to the previous 2007 movie, being a competent and reasonably fun action flick that is entertaining, if it’s not taken too seriously.
This thankfully places Hitman: Agent 47 alongside the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie, the 2001 Tomb Raider movie, the 2006 Silent Hill movie, and the 2010 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie, as being among the better video game adaptations that Hollywood has delivered to date. It certainly won’t save Fox from a very bumpy Summer, and it won’t win over naysayers of video game-inspired movies, but if you’re willing to meet Hitman: Agent 47 halfway, it will provide you with some reasonable popcorn entertainment. Remember, when it comes to video game-to-movie adaptations, it’s best to recall the old adage; Progress, not perfection.
One of the easiest things to appreciate about Hitman: Agent 47, even if you’re not at all familiar with the video game series that inspired it, is the lead performance of Rupert Friend as the title character. Friend is very well-cast as 47, effortlessly embodying the cold, emotionless calculation of the title assassin, who has had all traces of positive or weakening emotion programmed out of him on account of genetic engineering. Even when surrounded by legions of foes, 47 is eerily, hauntingly calm, terminating human life with extreme prejudice, and nary a single blink of his eyes. He’s a true killing machine, and he’s the biggest reason why this reboot is an improvement over the previous 2007 movie.
Surprisingly though, Agent 47 doesn’t totally feel like the main protagonist in his own movie, which is an interesting approach. Instead, the lead character seems to be Hannah Ware’s Katia van Dees, a young woman who is desperately seeking a man connected to her past, played by Ciaran Hinds. Given that Katia has heightened senses and highly advanced survival skills that she shouldn’t have, the twist with her character is probably something that viewers will see coming a mile away, but she still manages to be a pleasing presence, with the movie dumping its drama on her in order to increase the raw cool factor of 47, to good effect.
Despite that however, Katia has something of an interesting dynamic with 47, who appears to be hunting her for unknown reasons, at the behest of his handler from the games, Diana Burnwood, who is basically relegated to a glorified cameo in the background. The two leads play off of each other well, and almost have something of a slick professional dynamic, which allows Hitman: Agent 47 to make some cool nods to the stealth mechanics of the games, without bogging the movie down in trite, plodding stealth set pieces. Learning from the mistakes of its predecessor, Hitman: Agent 47 is happy to be a more fast-paced action movie, having just enough development given to 47 and Katia, without bogging down the pacing.
Helping Katia along in the early portions of the movie however is Zachary Quinto’s character, the enigmatic John Smith, with Quinto likely being the biggest name in Hitman: Agent 47, after his high-profile roles on both Star Trek and Heroes. Smith’s reason for helping Katia survive is shrouded in mystery, but obviously, not all is what it seems in 47’s world. There’s a twist with the character that, again, you can probably see coming a mile away, especially since the marketing seemed to tip its hand a bit as to who John Smith actually is, with a big clue being given to fans of the games in the later portions of the movie, and especially in a rather blunt mid-credits scene that teases plans for a sequel.
For all intents and purposes, the movie’s main antagonist, Le Clerq, played by Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Thomas Kretschmann, has some hand in all of this business that only sort of makes sense. Regardless though, he at least has a lot of handy henchmen to futily toss at 47 as cannon fodder, and a lot of impractical defenses that lead themselves to some ridiculous, yet surprisingly enjoyable action set pieces. As far as perfunctory villains go, he’s acceptable, even if he spends virtually the entire movie impractically holed up in his office, like some kind of final boss. Go figure.
The personalities in Hitman: Agent 47 only give the most rudimentary of explanations behind who they are and why they do what they do, but that’s definitely more appealing than the overdone, and yet largely uninteresting 2007 Hitman movie. At the very least, the filmmakers are having fun with it this time.
Hitman: Agent 47 makes a valiant effort to feature some twists and turns, and keep audiences invested throughout its zippy 96-minute runtime. Despite that though, it’s easy to call many of the twists in advance, and the plot never gains any real depth. It ultimately amounts to being a very straightforward action flick, which is more about simple thrills than any real intrigue.
Still, at least the movie has actual thrills in it, which is more than the 2007 movie can claim. Even the story basically just feels like an excuse to string together a loose array of action set pieces, and that’s fair enough, since said action set pieces are actually executed well. Watching 47 mow through groups of henchmen, dispatching them with ruthless efficiency, feels like its own reward. It may be a cheap thrill, but it’s still a thrill.
Perhaps Hitman: Agent 47 might have benefited from a deeper plot, but at least the movie knows what it is. It doesn’t have lengthy campaigns to work with like the video games do, and thus, it smartly makes do with what it does have. It’s ultimately a transparent, by-the-numbers action movie in terms of its plot foundation, but Hitman: Agent 47 is at least action-packed and easy to watch, regardless of whether or not you’ve played the video games. That’s certainly a step in the right direction when you stack it up against the majority of Hollywood’s sorry video game adaptations.
Hitman: Agent 47 is helmed by fledgling Polish director, Aleksander Bach, who has exclusively directed music videos and commercials before now. This movie marks his feature film debut, with Fox no doubt tapping him on account of Bach not being an established filmmaker, and clearly wanting to break out into feature film territory. It’s probably the best scenario for a smaller-scale video game adaptation, especially given the negative stigma around Hollywood video game adaptations that persists even now.
Fortunately, Bach knows his way around action scenes at the very least, framing the thrilling shots of Hitman: Agent 47 with a good amount of punch. There’s some awkward edits here and there, which are perhaps a side effect of Bach’s lack of experience in the feature film space, but most of Hitman: Agent 47 is actually put together reasonably well, especially as far as video game-to-movie adaptations go. The flair is slight, and like 47 himself, Bach focuses on efficiency in the action above all else, but this makes for a smart action movie that focuses on doing the simple stuff well, and not bothering with the chance of doing more advanced stuff poorly.
Movies like last year’s excellent John Wick really illustrate why more grounded, precisely executed action makes for a refreshing switch from Hollywood’s modern overblown action blockbuster economy, and Hitman: Agent 47 achieves a similar kind of appeal with its own style. Sure, it doesn’t compare to John Wick at all, but it focuses on a job, and gets it done. It’s tightly choreographed, sometimes surprisingly violent, and all in all, a solid light snack for action fans who aren’t expecting the world from it, occasionally throwing in some larger set pieces that will amuse you, even considering their proud lack of realism, and odd fetish for the damaging implications of aerial vehicle machinery.
Again, as far as Hollywood video game adaptations go, Hitman: Agent 47 is helmed pretty well. It manages whatever style it can, but mostly focuses on making sure that audiences enjoy themselves, and get the exciting action that they no doubt paid for above anything else.
Hitman: Agent 47 does smack a little of being a perfunctory late Summer action flick that was only made so that Fox didn’t have up to give up the movie rights to Hitman, but considering that the movie is quite watchable and engaging, this is rather forgivable in the end. Like I said, the movie is an improvement over the previous attempt to translate Hitman to the big screen from the previous decade, being straightforward and a bit shallow, but also being exciting and competently executed as an action B-flick.
It deserves to be stressed as well that, if nothing else, Hitman: Agent 47 perfectly realizes its title character in Rupert Friend, who is exactly the kind of 47 that the big screen deserves. Hitman: Agent 47 predictably hasn’t set the box office on fire, not even making its rather modest $35 million budget back yet, but I do hope that it gets a sequel, so that Friend can reprise the role. It’s his presence that effectively ties together what’s otherwise a by-the-numbers action flick, one certainly made well for what it is, but not with a whole lot of bells and whistles.
Naturally, avid fans of the Hitman games will likely still see the movie as a bastardization of the source material, and will no doubt prefer the games that inspired this movie instead. That’s fair enough, but they also shouldn’t write off a video game adaptation that is at least competent, and certainly not the disaster that many of them end up being, sadly. If you’ve never played, or perhaps not even seen, a Hitman video game in your life, Hitman: Agent 47 still works as an undemanding action flick, not really requiring any knowledge of the source games to enjoy, and if all you’re looking for is a reliable action offering, then this movie should be a satisfying way to round off your Summer.
Like I said, progress, not perfection.
- Well-executed, often exciting action scenes
- Rupert Friend is a superb Agent 47
- Clever nods to the games, without overusing them
- Personalities are shallow and easy to predict
- Story is flat and by-the-numbers
- Still doesn't stand with the high quality of the games